About six months ago, Tara Mashack-Behney recalls with a smile, she stepped into an initial meeting with representatives of a potential client by herself.
During her 10 years at Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors Inc., she's been in dozens of these meetings, many filled with boardrooms of men who have been in their particular roles for years. At this meeting with a Lebanon County business, she heard something that wasn't supposed to reach her ears.
"Is she it?" one board member whispered to the other.
Taken aback momentarily, she then heard the confident response.
"Just wait until she opens her mouth."
As a woman in the male-dominated world of high-stakes investments, she's used to hearing those kinds of things. Mashack-Behney, 42, of North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County, has been in that world for about 20 years and has been with Susquehanna Township-based Conrad Siegel Actuaries for more than 10 years, serving as president and partner of Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors Inc. since 2008.
She's experienced in having to prove herself a little more than a man in her field might, but she has never seen that as a frustration. For her, it's a good challenge.
"It's kind of like when you're a kid, and you're playing a game," she said. "You always want to win, right? That's the mentality I've always had with it."
At Conrad Siegel Actuaries, the parent company of Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors, having a woman in a high-ranking position isn't anything new: Four of the company's 18 partners are women.
In 2003, Janel Leymeister, 49, was the second woman in Conrad Siegel Actuaries' 50-year history to be elevated to partner. She said the atmosphere there fosters anyone who is qualified to be able to rise to a position.
"I think the company has always been about finding talent, no matter where it came from," she said. "It's very gender-neutral."
Laura Hess, 38, was named a partner in 2011 after three years at Conrad Siegel Actuaries and said she might have let the opportunity come to her instead of reaching out and grabbing it.
"Men might be more apt to go after it," she said. "But I think whether you're a male or a female, you always have to be on the edge, ready to take the next leap. This profession lends something to that."
Mashack-Behney, a 1993 Dickinson College graduate, started in banking under a mentor who always gave her the opportunity to be at the forefront of deals at Miners National Bank in Pottsville.
That kind of opportunity, she said, helped train her to be comfortable in that role and have clients comfortable with her.
"The best thing he did for me was always make me feel like part of the team," she said. "I was never in the background taking notes. I was always in a position where I was meeting with clients so that they were used to seeing me. The clients very quickly associated me with investments."
She moved to Conrad Siegel in 2002 when the company formed its investment division, and she became a partner in 2008. The company and its approximately 100 employees specialize in advising companies on retirement plans, government and private pension plans and on advising high-net-worth individuals.
Within the first year, the company had $21 million in assets under management. That amount now stands at more than $800 million.
She said she's seen the industry change, thanks to the influence of women being trusted in higher positions, both as clients and peers.
Men, she said, generally are more trusting of a financial adviser and often will heed an adviser's advice when it comes to planning financial future.
Women, however, ask more questions and want to be more informed in the decisions they will make, she said, and it's made actuaries more informed about their own products so they can explain options more clearly to potential clients — women or men.
"Women advisers have changed the industry," she said. "The industry is now more consultive, the clients are more consultive themselves, and those are good things. It leaves less questions in the end."
About Tara Mashack-Behney
Education: Bachelor’s in economics from Dickinson College, 1993
Career: 1993-1998, Miners Bank, Minersville. Started in management program, became a branch manager, promoted to trust investment officer.
1998-2002, Community Banks, Pottsville. Hired as trust investment officer, later promoted to assistant vice president/trust investment officer.
2002-present, Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors Inc., Susquehanna Township. Started as director of investment consulting; named president in February.
Boards and affiliations: Certified financial planner, chartered financial consultant professional; Phi Beta Kappa, Dickinson College; Society of Financial Services Professionals